Twitter ban: Court dismisses suit against FG, awards N100, 000 fine against SERAP

Twitter ban: Court dismisses suit against FG, awards N100, 000 fine against SERAP

A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, December 9, dismissed a suit filed against the Federal Government; for directing television and radio stations to delete their Twitter accounts.

Justice Obiora Egwuatu, in a judgment, dismissed the suit; for lacking in merit and awarded the sum of N100, 000 against the plaintiff.

1st News also reports that the Incorporated Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had, in June, filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/496/21, against three defendants.

In the suit, SERAP had sued the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); the Director-General of NBC; as well as the Minister of Information and Culture as 1st to 3rd defendants respectively.

The suit followed the order by NBC, asking all broadcast outfits to immediately suspend patronage of Twitter; after it was banned for violating Nigerian laws.

The group had sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Government and the regulator from “censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”

It also sought an order setting aside the directive asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, as being “unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

In their preliminary objections, the 1st and 2nd defendants urged the court to dismiss the suit.

They argued that the directive did not in any way affect the plaintiff.

They further averred that the action was taken in the interest of the country’s national security, economy and unity, adding that the suit was filed in bad faith.

The defendants told the court that apart from Twitter, there are other social media platforms through which the plaintiff could access information and interact like Facebook, etc.

Also in his argument, the Minister of Information, through his lawyer, Nelson Orji, said the Federal Government operates within the ambit of the law and would not do anything to undermine it.

He said that the operation of Twitter, an American microblogging as well as social media outfit, within the Nigerian cyberspace required it to operate within the confines of the laws.

He told the court that the company was not registered as a company in Nigeria as required by the law.

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According to Orji, by the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA); foreign businesses wishing to carry on business in Nigeria are required to be registered; by the Corporate Affairs Commission as a Nigerian company.

He also told the court that what the government had done was to suspend its operation of business activities; pending its willingness to operate within the Nigerian laws.

He added that Twitter was suspended; because its activities became a threat to the country’s national security, and the welfare of its people. I miss

Delivering the judgment, Justice Egwuatu held that the fundamental rights of the plaintiff had not been breached; because the freedom of expression provided for under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is not absolute.

He stated that the section is limited under Section 45(1) which deals with the issues of defence; public safety, public health, public morality, etc.

The judge held that the media houses, under which SERAP had filed the suit; did not complain about the ban, hence, the plaintiff cannot cry more than the bereaved.

Egwuatu held that when national security is threatened; the issues of fundamental human rights take a second stage.

He said besides, that Twitter was not a registered company in the country as required by the laws.

Justice Egwuatu, who dismissed the suit for lacking in merit; awarded a cost of N100, 000 in favour of the defendants.

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